The 2018 WCPFC FAD ban kicked off this weekend, meaning all FAD sets are prohibited in the Western Pacific Ocean for a three to four month period. The measure aims to take pressure off certain stocks, but a US fleet representative has questioned its effectiveness without clear ‘FAD’ or ‘FAD set’ definitions.

From July 1st all purse seine fleets operating in the WCPO can only fish free-school in EEZs, which lasts until the end of September or October, depending on the member nation. This year there is also a five month high seas FAD ban implemented in the region, and a fixed period of three months is also set from July 1st onwards.

Ultimately this means over the next three months FAD sets are not permitted in the entire WCPFC jurisdiction area. The aim is to take pressure of stocks of bigeye and yellowfin, usually caught as juveniles within FAD sets.

However, without clear definitions for a FAD or a FAD set, a representative from the US fleet is questioning the effectiveness of the FAD ban and other similar measures. “How can there be a limit on the number of FAD sets or a meaningful FAD closure if it is not understood what a FAD set is?”

This topic has been gaining momentum recently, since the US government called a stakeholder meeting on the issue. It was aware of differing FAD definitions across the major tuna RFMOs and the confusion and difficultly this can cause when it comes to FAD management. Clear definitions on the general term of a ‘FAD’ is the first step in properly and consistently defining what a FAD set is and what counts as free-school.

According to the US source, “FAD management has proven very complicated…for many different regions.” In regards to FAD terminology he told Atuna that the IATTC (and FAO) has it right; “that a FAD should be defined as “deployed and/or tracked”.”

He believes this can be measured and understood. The other RFMOs, however, “allow FADs to be defined as debris or anything that floats.” In this source's eyes, this is “ridiculous” and much harder to manage.

For him, that is one of the areas the WCPFC really needs to work on. He also does not agree with the way that high seas fishing is being regulated by the Commission. “The WCPFC is the only tuna RFMO that has a specific regime for the high seas,” he says. It is added that the “the different tuna stocks from each region do not separate by EEZ or HS, and so each stock should be managed as a whole”.

According to the source, separating the high seas for special restrictions is based on politics and not conservation.

Regarding the ongoing FAD ban, it is added that a similar pattern is expected this year as previous in terms of supply and prices. Usually supply drops during this period and the Bangkok skipjack market price rises in reaction. However “it is so hard to speculate or predict prices” he says.